The traditional foldedspace spooky story can be found at the end of this entry.

Wow. I wasn’t expecting a wind storm, were you? When I crawled out of bed this morning, after the worst of the storm, the winds were still at 23mph with gusts to 43mph.

My drive down River Road from Oak Grove to Oregon City was over a sodden mass of pulpy leaves, a brown slush. Traffic lights were out along 99E in Gladstone. (Some of the drivers along the highway were dangerous, treating these lights as if they were green instead of treating them as four-way stops. Very scary for side-traffic.) The wind had blown down traffic signs between Oregon City and Canby, and there were fallen limbs scattered along the entire route.

This is the first wind storm I can recall in several years. Perhaps I’m overly impressed with its moderate strength because (a) it has been so long since we’ve had another and (b) it occurred during the early morning hours, while we were lying in bed, listening to the windows and the branches and the awnings thump and scrape and clatter.

The last severe wind storm in the Portland area occurred about ten years ago, in November of 1995. I left work early that day to be at home with Kris. The power was out at the shop, so we couldn’t get any work done anyhow. The power was off at home, too, so we listened to a battery-powered radio, and when darkness fell, we read by candlelight.

I wonder if this storm might not have been more damaging if we hadn’t had that massive freeze two years ago. That ice storm destroyed a lot of trees and branches that might otherwise have been injured last night.

I really do seem to have turned the corner on my year-long bout with depression. Through sheer force of will, I am changing the way I think, feel, and act. I like it. Through it all, I’m repeatedly reminded of Action Girl’s Guide to Living, which remains filled with good advice.

It occurred to me last night that some of the best entries I’ve made here at foldedspace are those in which I regurgitate information I’ve gathered regarding Action Girl’s approach: getting things done, a brief guide to better sleep, and get rich slowly What if I were to create a web site specifically devoted to this type of information? Or — dare I think it? — what if I were to write a book that collated this information into one easy-to-use manual? An Action Boy’s Guide to Living, perhaps?

Finally, here’s a foldedspace Halloween tradition: my favorite spooky story.

The Velvet Ribbon
by Ann McGovern

Once there was a man who fell in love with a beautiful girl. And before the next full moon rose in the sky, they were wed.

To please her husband, the young wife wore a different gown each night. Sometimes she was dressed in yellow; other nights she wore red or blue or white. And she always wore a black velvet ribbon around her slender neck. Day and night she wore that ribbon, and it was not long before her husband’s curiosity got the better of him.

“Why do you always wear that ribbon?” he asked. She smiled a strange smile and said not a word. At last her husband got angry. And one night he shouted at his bride. “Take that ribbon off! I’m tired of looking at it.”

You will be sorry if I do,” she replied, “so I won’t.”

Every morning at breakfast, the husband ordered his wife to remove the black velvet ribbon from around her neck. Every night at dinner he told her the same thing. But every morning at breakfast and every night at dinner, all his wife would say was, “You’ll be sorry if I do. So I won’t.”

A week passed. The husband no longer looked into his wife’s eyes. He could only stare at that black velvet ribbon around her neck.

One night as his wife lay sleeping, he tiptoed to her sewing basket. He took out a pair of scissors. Quickly and quietly, careful not to awaken her, he bent over his wife’s bed and SNIP! went the scissors, and the velvet ribbon fell to the floor. And SNAP! off came her head.

It rolled over the floor in the moonlight, wailing tearfully: “I…told…you…you’d…be…s-o-r-r-y!”

Here’s the mp3 for The Velvet Ribbon. Listen and shiver.

Bumper Bowling

I’m sitting at my desk, composing this weblog entry. I’m listening to Neutral Milk Hotel and munching on hickory smoke flavored soy nuts. As I’m mousing around, I bump into a soy bean I must have dropped and, without looking, I snatch it up and pop it in my mouth.

Crunch crunch crunch.

“Hm,” I think. “That doesn’t taste very much like hickory smoke. It tastes rather like grass. In fact, it tastes gross.” And so I spit it out into my hand only to see that I have not been gnashing a stray soy bean but a stray lady bug.


We’ve spent the last year trying to schedule a night to take Jeremy and Jennifer out to dinner, a dinner we owe them for favors rendered when we moved into this house. At last we picked out a date — October 28th — only to have Kris sabotage an evening of adults-only gluttony by suggesting we take the kids bowling. I’m glad she did.

We ate burgers and shakes and onion rings at Mike’s Drive-In before heading to Kellogg Bowl in Milwaukie.

I was wary of the place at first. I’m always wary of bowling alleys. In my mind, they’re smoky and seedy and filled with Big Lebowski type losers. It turns out Kellogg Bowl’s a nice place to take the family for a bit of fun. It also turns out that we ought to have had pizza before bowling. There’s a Pietro’s Pizza next door, of which both Jeremy and I have fond memories. Better yet, there’s a direct hotline from the bowling alley to the pizza parlor. You can pick up the hotline, place an order, and Pietro’s will deliver pizza to your lane. That is frickin’ awesome!

As we were waiting for the bumper lanes to open, the owner spied my camera. “Look at this,” he said, motioning me to follow him. He showed me his two digital cameras. “What kind do you have?” he said, so I showed him. “Wow,” he said. “I want something like that someday. Say, come with me.” He led me back to his office, where he showed me his little HP photo printer.

When Jenn came up to get shoes for the kids, the owner asked her about the digital camera she was carrying. She took a couple of photos, and the fellow darted back to his office with her memory card in order to make a couple of prints.

Here’s a little secret: I enjoy bowling. If it ever occurred to me, I might do it on a regular basis. I’m certainly never going to turn down an opportunity to bowl a couple of games. (When I sold insurance in eastern Oregon, I’d often go bowling in the evenings to kill time.) I haven’t been in a couple years. The last time was with Joel and Aimee and Mac and Pam. I thought I had an obsessive weblog entry about that night, complete with scores, but I can’t find it. (This entry has a comment from Joel about that night.)

This was the first time that Harrison and Emma had been bowling. Emma chose a pink ball, of course. Harrison started with an eight-pound ball, but had more success when a woman who worked at the alley brought him a six-pound ball. Many of Emma’s balls c-r-e-p-t down the alley, with barely enough force to topple a single pin when they reached their destination. Harrison did well. He even bowled a strike!

In the non-bumper lane, Kris, Jeremy, and I put up a poor showing. At the end of seven frames, my score stood at a woeful 65. I wasn’t even on pace to break 100. I went in search of a better ball, and I found one. It was pound heavier, the holes were better spaced, and my thumb didn’t stick upon release. I bowled three consecutive strikes. In my last three frames, I scored 76! My final score was 141, which is about average for me.

As we left the bowling alley, Jenn asked Harrison how he liked bowling. “I love it,” he said. “It’s really great.”

We’ll have to go back, but next time Jeremy and I are using the pizza hotline.

My Throat Hurts

I get sick a couple times a year, but usually it’s nothing major: just a head cold accompanied by endless weariness. Once every two or three years, though, I get knocked on my ass by some bug or other. Now is one of those times.

I’ve been fighting something for the past month, and thought I had kicked it. Maybe I hadn’t. Or maybe I caught something from one of the kids at Monday Night Football. (I do a poor job of not sharing food with them.) On Wednesday night, the illness began to take me down. My throat hurt. My nose was stuffed. My throat hurt. I couldn’t sleep. My throat hurt. My throat hurt. My throat hurt.

I stayed home from work yesterday to sleep late. When I woke, my throat hurt. I drank three huge mugs of hot Thai tea. My throat hurt. Hopped up on all the caffeine, I cleaned the entire (!!!) house. My throat hurt. I took a long, hot bat. My throat hurt.

In the evening, Kris made a quesadilla for me. It was my first real food of the day, and tasted more delicious than it ought to be, but after I ate it my throat hurt. I took my temperature for the first time: 99.8. (My personal norm is 98.2, except that it is 97.8 after waking in the morning.) I tried to watch an Africa documentary from Netflix, but couldn’t concentrate. My throat hurt.

I went to bed at 8:00 and slept til midnight, when I woke because my sinuses had become plugged (which is not good while wearing a C-PAP mask), and because my throat hurt. I took my temperature: 100.5. Finally, I sprayed my throat with some of that green gunk, but it didn’t do anything. My throat hurt. (Roths are notoriously slow at applying medicinal treatment to ailments.)

I’ve spent the past hour sitting at the computer, surfing aimlessly, waiting to become tired, or for my sinuses to clear, or, especially, for my throat to cease hurting. I can’t concentrate, though, so mostly I sit here, staring into space, listening to the patter of the cold rain outside the window. I think that maybe I should go downstairs and wash dishes or sort my books out of Dewey Decimal order or do some Extreme Soduku.

But my eyes are watery and sore. My body temperature is 100.0. I want to sleep.

My throat hurts.


This review is a month late. It’s also very, very long. So sue me.

Joel and Aimee and many other geeks have written rave reviews for the recent sci-fi action flick Serenity. Most of these raves come from fans of the television show Firefly, upon which the film is based. I’ve never seen the show, but the film’s geek cred drew me to it. (To be fair, some geeks recognized the film as flawed, and knew that non-fans might feel overwhelmed.)

My short review: this is a good science fiction movie. My long review follows, but first a plot synopsis.

Sometime in the future, Earth has become overpopulated, forcing humanity to migrate (apparently in massive numbers) to another star system. This new star system is some sort of bizarre astronomical anomaly: it contains “dozens of planets and hundreds of moons”. The refugees terraform these planets and moons over the course of decades (centuries?). These worlds are centrally controlled by some sort of Alliance, which may or may not be an authoritarian government. (The political situation seems important, but is only vaguely described.) Life is complicated by the presence of rampaging zombie space pirates (seriously) that periodically raid remote settlements.

As the film begins, River, a young woman with psychic powers (and incredible physical prowess), is being held for experimentation by some top-secret government science organization. Her brother frees her and takes her to the spaceship on which he is the medical officer. This ship is called Serenity, and includes a crew of maybe a half dozen outlaws.

These outlaws travel to an outlying settlement in order to rob the payroll from somebody. (No, this doesn’t really make sense. It’s one of those film things that is more for effect than because it’s actually sensible. Why is the payroll not handled through electronic transactions, or at the very least through checks? I don’t know. It just isn’t. It’s paid in cash.) During the heist, the zombie space pirates attack, and our heroes flee.

Meanwhile, a dangerous government assassin has been dispatched to recover River, the stolen girl. (This assassin kills his marks in a bizarre fashion. He holds a sword on the ground and then causes his victims to fall upon it via some sort of acupressure. Again, this makes no sense, and is solely for effect.) Wherever our heroes go for refuge, the assassin follows, and he kills those who come into contact with the crew.

Eventually, Serenity makes its way to River’s home planet, where we learn that the government had been experimenting with some sort of air-borne pacification drug intended to keep the population malleable. (Sort of like the spores in that old Star Trek episode.) The drug didn’t just pacify, though, but sapped everyone’s will to live. People stopped caring. They died where they stood. (Again, this doesn’t really make sense. It doesn’t need to. It’s just a plot device.) Coincidentally, this same pacification drug caused a portion of the population to turn into the zombie space pirates that have been causing trouble.

Our heroes decide that the entire star system must know about this heinous crime (if crime it is), so they head for a technogeek guy they know. Unfortunately, the government assassin has anticipated this move, and a three-way final battle ensues (heroes vs. government vs. zombie space pirates). In the end, the heroes win, but not without cost.

It’s all rather fun while it lasts, despite the improbabilities, but the film hasn’t held up well over the ten days since I viewed it. Most of what I have to say is negative. As you read the following, realize that I enjoyed the film, and would probably grade it a B.

There are many characters in Serenity, but they’re mostly uninteresting. I felt no connection with any of them except River, on whom the film devotes the most time for backstory. River is a fantastic character — and the film is all about her — but truth be told, she’s not used enough. She’s less a character than a convenient re-usable deus ex machina, and a pretty figure to pose in comic book stances. (And she is a pretty figure. Is there anything sexier than a fit young woman, barefoot, clad in only a thin gauzy dress, laying waste with mad martial arts skills? No, there is nothing sexier.) I’d like to know more about Kayleigh, and the captain, and some of the minor players, but I’m never given the chance. (One character seems completely superfluous. Ariana (or whatever her name is) serves no purpose. It’s my guess that she’s in the film simply to tie up some loose plot thread from the television series. She was apparently once the captain’s girlfriend.)

Furthermore, the characters are not complex. Each is defined by a single motive. Kayleigh loves the doctor. The doctor is protective of River. River is a psychic killing machine. (People keep saying she’s mentally disturbed or crazy, but we have no evidence of this other than the fact that people keep saying it is so.) Some characters have no motives: the pilot and his wife, what’s their deal? Who knows. The lumox is a lumox. The captain’s motive is one-liners.

As a sidenote: River looks a little like Fiona Apple, don’t you think?

Musical Waif Ass-Kicking Waif

Captain Malcolm looks like Nate Fisher from Six Feet Under or like Craig Briscoe from Alaska.

Architect Undertaker Outlaw

Speaking of one-liners…

Though writer-director Joss Whedon‘s plotting is strong, and his dialogue is brisk, he has peppered the script with the twee smart-alecky humor that I so dislike in his writing. (Whedon is the man behind the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise, and is currently writing one of the many flavors of X-Men, the only flavor that interests me.) I’ll wager his fans love the one-liners. I do not. They’re not funny. His character’s snappy, “witty” retorts don’t make me laugh; they make me grimace. The most egregious of these witticisms are reserved for the beginning of the film, during the character development moments. I can’t help but think that if Whedon had spent more time on character development than on jokes, maybe the audience would care more about the characters.

I was worried that the entire film would be filled with one-liners, but fortunately they subside, and some are eventually quite funny.

Here’s an example of an exchange I like. During the climactic battle scene, as he is about to kill the captain, the government assassin asks, “Do you know what your sin is?” The captain replies, “Hell, I’m a fan of all seven, but right now I’m going to have to go with wrath.” A bit stagey and far too wordy, but amusing. (And, yes, I realize that line sounds as if it might be spoken by Sawyer from Lost.)

Here’s an example of a more typical “funny” line. After a drawn-out chase on a landspeeder of sorts, River says, “I swallowed a bug.” Ha ha! Later, the captain says, “Doctor, I’ve taken your sister under my protection here. If anything happens to her, anything at all, I swear to you: I will get very choked up. Honestly. There might even be tears.” If you find this sort of banter witty, then you may love the film. If you find this dialogue forced and, well, dumb, then there are parts of this film that must be endured rather than enjoyed. (You can read more quotes here.)

I do like the conceit that these characters speak in American Civil War-era English. It gives the setting a sense of foreign-ness while still being accessible. (Plus, I love American Civil War-era English.)

I like the “Born in a Trunk“-style (or Matrix-style, if you prefer) onion-peeling levels of unreality that start the film. (You can watch the first nine minutes of the film here.) A voiceover history of the story’s setting turns into a school lecture turns into a memory turns into a holographic projection. (I may even have missed a layer.) This history lesson does a fair job of introducing the setting without being too clumsily obvious an exposition dump, but it doesn’t succeed entirely. I want to know more about this bizarre solar system. Why does it have “dozens of planets and hundreds of moons”? How does that work? Why were so many able to be terraformed? Just how large is the habitable zone around this star? Aren’t most of the planets far too cold or far too hot for terraforming ever to work? Tell me more!

There are certain sections of the film where I felt a little lost. At one point, our heroes flee to a sort of religious commune in a desert. Why? There seems to be some sort of shared history there, but the audience is never made to understand what sort of shared history that might be. And later, when the commune is massacred, we’re supposed to care, but we don’t.

Other things bother me, too. The post-heist action sequence is lame, especially the whole “we can’t pick up another guy because he’d be too heavy” bit. We’re told River weighs ninety pounds. Surely the landspeeder thingie can hold River and a medium-sized guy just as well as it could hold a jumbo-sized guy, right? Why does the number of people matter? Wouldn’t mass be the limiting factor?

Also: Not only is the character Ariana superfluous, she’s responsible for one of the most ludicrous scenes in the film. She’s a priestess. She apparently once had a relationship with the captain, so the bad guys use her as bait to draw our heroes to them. While under the watch of the government assassin, she’s able to obtain some sort of gunpowder-based bomb, plant it before her Buddha, and then use an incense stick to cause it to go off at exactly the right moment to prevent the captain from being killed. Huh? This is one of the most improbable things I’ve ever seen in a film.

I liked the design of this film. The feel of the society is unique and interesting: a sort of combination between the Wild West and modern SE Asia. The setting sometimes feels like Blade Runner, but less industrial.

The space battles are similar (but slightly superior) to the opening sequence in Revenge of the Sith. They also share some of the same flaws. There are too many ships, there’s too much going on, and the camera shots are too tight for the audience to have any idea of what is actually happening. It’s just frenetic chaos, and that’s not fun to watch. It’s as if the plot shuts down for two minutes and you have to tell yourself: “This is a generic space battle; nothing about it matters.”

Another (bad) similarity to Star Wars: remember how absurd it was in The Phantom Menace that the Trade Federation could blockade a planet by forming a ring around its equator? Well, the same goofiness is present in Serenity. Twice. Those who write science fiction films need to be taught to think in three dimensional space. (It was even a major plot point during the final battle in Strar Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, but in that film, the writers used this knowledge to their advantage.)

Too many things in this film occur just for the effect. (Remember this was one of my complaints with Peter Jackson’s Tolkien grotesques.) In the first few minutes, River climbs a wall and braces herself on the ceiling in order to escape detection, an act that seems wholly gratuitous.

Why not just hide behind a cart of medical supplies? Because that wouldn’t look cool! Near the end of the film, River (who, remember, is a one-woman killing machine) goes apeshit on a horde of zombie space pirates that is attacking Serenity. Most of her rampage occurs off-screen. When it’s finished, the camera pulls back to reveal River, surrounded by zombie space pirate corpses, holding two massive axe-like weapons (both of which are dripping copious amounts of blood). She looks like a waif-orc. It’s meant to be cool, but it’s actually funny in a sort of ludicrous way.

As a director, Whedon shoots with fine dramatic effect, often employing what I consider comic book shots: he shoots from unusual angles or perspectives (overhead shots, ground-level shots), uses atmospheric lighting, and loves to stand his actors in super-hero poses.

The soundtrack was good: varied and interesting. It wasn’t omnipresent (as John Williams’ recent overblown Star Wars scores), but when it was there, it was fun.

Serenity is the sort of film that, upon reflection, doesn’t hold up well. There are just too many gaps of logic, and too much is done for effect rather than for the service of the story. And yet I liked it. I liked the film despite its sophomoric humor, its superfluous characters, its strange science. It has a charm and likeabiltiy about it that are missing in the recent Star Wars films, for example.

Is this the best science fiction film of the 21st century? I don’t think it even comes close, not even with qualifications. Did it deserve to bomb at the box office? Probably not. Why did it bomb at the box office? I can think of two reasons. First, the trailer was terrible. The day before I saw Serenity, I watched a preview for it in the theater that almost made me decide against it. Second, it’s just not one of those films that makes you want to run out and recommend it to other people. I have many geek friends who are also unfamiliar with this universe and story, but I don’t intend to proselytize to them.

The Dewey Dumbcimal System

Have you ever wondered why it’s so difficult to find a book at the public library? Why you must use the card catalog or ask a librarian for assistance? I’ll tell you why: the frickin’ Dewey Decimal System.

I just spent four hours sorting a large portion of my non-fiction library in Dewey Decimal order, lightly printing the call number for every book on its back flyleaf. When a book’s title page did not list the call number, I looked it up in the local library system. I did this for about two hundred books. (I set aside another two hundred as not yet worth the effort, and didn’t even touch another four hundred volumes.)

This took time.

Lots of it.

I had supposed that ultimately all this work would be worthwhile because it would yield better organized books. I was wrong. Tomorrow after work I’m going to go home and undo the entire system and reshelve according to Roth Non-Decimal System.

Here are some examples of the craziness in Dewey:

  • For many books, there is no one set classification. For example, The Gutenberg Elegies may be classified under 028.9 (reading) or under 302.232 (social interaction). I admit that this makes sense in some cases, but under Dewey, the delineations are often bizarre.
  • Barack Obama’s memoir is filed under 973.4 (general history of North America – United States). It’s an autobiography; shouldn’t it be under 921? Elspeth’s Huxley’s semi-fictional account of growing up in Kenya is classed in 921, as one might expect, but Alexandra Fuller’s recent book about growing up in southern Africa is shelved at 968.91 (general history of Africa – southern Africa). These books are nearly identical except for the time periods in which they occur. They’re both autobiographies. Why aren’t all three of these books in 921?
  • Hiking Oregon is 796.51, which makes sense; 796 is “athletic & outdoor sports & games”. However, Into Thin Air is 796.52, which does not make sense. (Into Thin Air is about disaster while climbing Everest.) Oregon’s Best Wildflower Hikes is 582.13 for spermatophyta (seed-bearing plants), which makes a tiny bit of sense (but only a tiny bit). The book is about hiking, not about wildflowers. It ought to be shelved next to Hiking Oregon, and Into Thin Air ought to be shelved someplace near The Worst Journey in the World, another book about a disastrous expedition.
  • John Muir’s Travels in Alaska is filed under 979.8 (general history of North America – Great Basin & Pacific Slope), but Into the Wild and One Man’s Wilderness are filed under 917.48 (North America).
  • The Lifetime Reading Plan, a reading guide to the literary canon, is shelved at 011.7 (bibliographies), but An Invitation to the Classics, a Christian reading guide to the literary canon, is shelved at 809 (literary history and criticism). Other reading guides to the literary canon are shelved elsewhere.
  • Gardening books are strewn about through all sorts of classifications so that I cannot even begin to decipher a rhyme or reason. Some are in applied science, some are in natural science, and some are in social science. Some are in art! If I were organizing them, they’d all be together under — and this might be a shocker — gardening.

Admittedly, what makes sense for a home library might not make for a large institutional library. Still, I get the distinct impression that the Dewey Decimal system has long outlived its usefulness and ought to be quietly put down. (I had four years of exposure to the Library of Congress system during college, but don’t know it well enough to be able to state whether it would be any better than Dewey for my purposes.)

It’s a sad state of affairs when I can walk into Borders and find the book I want — without assistance — in less than a minute, yet if I were to try the same thing at my small local public library, I’d have to walk up and down every aisle and I still might miss my subject. Even at Powell’s, the “city of books”, where there are gigantic rooms filled with thousands of volumes, I can generally find what I want quickly.

This seems like a good place to voice another library complaint. Over the past year, as I’ve begun to use the library more, I’ve noticed that each branch in the Clackamas County Library system has its own method of organizing non-book media. This makes it frustrating to locate things.

For example, several of the libraries stock graphic novels (glorified comic books). At most branches, graphic novels are organized by title, so that all Superman graphic novels are together under S, for example. In Milwaukie, however, they sort the graphic novels by author. This is insanely stupid. It is rare that a comic book carries a single author for more than a couple of years. If I want to borrow a bunch of X-Men comics from Milwaukie, I have to look under each individual writer’s name, if I can even remember them. Note that none of these are filed under X, where one might reasonably expect to find X-Men.

Most libraries display their compact discs end-on, so that it is easy to view a large number of them quickly during a search. Not the Oak Grove branch. The Oak Grove branch forces you to flip through drawers full of CDs. Worse, instead of filing them alphabetically by artist name in broad genre classifications, they sort the CDs by Dewey Decimal order! Does a Maria Callas opera compilation come before or after Beethoven’s complete symphonies? And why is Dawn Upshaw’s “Because I Wish It So” collection of popular songs filed nearby? Who knows? You have to flip through a drawer full of CDs (or maybe two drawers full) in order to find out. It’s maddening.

In Praise of Autumn

We have passed some critical stage of fall-ness. When I look out my office window to the maple in the front yard, I can see it shed great clumps of leaves with every gust of wind. As I watch the leaves and listen to Pachelbel’s Canon, I am reminded of those first few heady weeks of college. Autumn always reminds of college and of freedom.

(Because I have a need to have a favorite everything, I’ve recently decided that autumn is my favorite season. Spring and autumn are the only choices, really, because summer and winter are too extreme. I like autumn best because it is warm-going-on-cool, rather than the reverse. I also like that everything is already green, but fading. Early autumn features produce from the garden, mid-autumn dazzles with its riotous colors, and late autumn is all about family and friends. Autumn is wonderful.)

When I walked into the kitchen this morning, I was overwhelmed by memories of school cafeterias: the smells of mass-produced corn and mashed potatoes and spinach, the sounds of dishware clattering at the dishwasher, the sights of people eating and laughing.

This reminds me of all my little friends, of Harrison and Antonio and Ian and Kaden, and of the discoveries they’re making every day at school. I think of first grade and of the novelty of so many kids in one place. I think of the school library, of the classroom, of the gym.

I think of the playground, and of the games we used to play there. I think of tetherball and four square and wallball and kickball and “hot lava” and of simply running from one end of the grass field to the other.

It’s a good day for reminiscing. It is a narrow distraction.


Paul Ford has written an interesting piece about distractions and how they influence his life. Ford differentiates between wide distractions and narrow distractions. Wide distractions are tangential and shallow. They lead you away from your course, drawing you a short way down many different sidepaths. Narrow distractions are more focused, not so much straying from your original course as delving more deeply into it; perhaps this can be best explained as stopping to examine a bird or a tree or a flower along the trail. Ford writes:

The Internet is the widest possible distraction because it lets you wander so far afield that getting work done if you are, like me, the distractable sort of person—getting work done is almost impossible. I’m not the sort of person who can read a book with footnotes and ignore the footnotes. I have to read every footnote. I often prefer the footnotes because they point in so many directions. But when wide distractions are available I avoid the narrow distractions, and those are the useful distractions. Let’s say you’re thinking hard about a concept—say, kittens. Kittens are young cats. They have paws and they are sometimes friendly. Your stepmother, you remember, didn’t let you have a kitten. Why was that? Was she allergic, or did she really just hate you? Now, that’s something worth thinking about. A concept worth exploring. That’s a narrow distraction, a good distraction.

Ford has articulated a concept of which I’ve had a vague notion, but no words to describe it. I, too, am easily distracted. Especially by the internet. The internet is so distracting that I find it impossible to be productive with an active connection nearby. I tend to do the minimum necessary instead of devoting time and effort to produce quality work, not out of malice or negligence, but because as I’m working, some thought will occur to me — “I should look up the history of the ten-key” — and I’ll slide over to spend an hour in increasingly tangential web searches. My work suffers, whether it’s home or on the job or for fun.

Without wide distractions, however, I’m more focused. I am diverted by narrow distractions, too, but find that these are generally more rewarding. Narrow distractions are short, introspective, and often enlightening. More importantly, they are not time sinks.

One reason I’m opposed to television is the ease with which a person can be sucked into regular viewing, consuming gross numbers of hours every day. I’m no different, except my vice is the internet. If I were not connected, I might succumb to some other wide distraction — my encyclopedia, perhaps — but no other wide distraction can possibly approach the infinite as closely as the world wide web.

Lately, I’ve been more conscious of how much time I spend browsing and exchanging e-mail. What if I were to use this time for something remotely productive? What if I were using it to write short stories, or even a novel? What if?

This is a recurring theme in my life, a sort of monkey on my back that I cannot lose. I’ve written about it here in the past. I probably sound like the Boy Who Cried Wolf. I’d love to learn some techniques for avoiding wide distractions. Maybe I could google for some.

Autumn Weekend

We’ve had odd weather around Portland this year, so it’s something of a relief to be experiencing a typical autumn. In the spring, we had a bizarre warm spell from February 15th to March 15th, followed by miserable damp weather for months. Our summer was unusually placid and a little cool. (Did we have a single 100-degree day?) Our autumn has been typical, though, with an plenty of light rain.

Kris and I are pleased to be on a piece of property with an abundance of trees. It’s a pleasure to watch the leaves change color day-by-day. Every morning, Kris looks out the window at the top of the stairs, reveling in the bright orange and red of the maples. She also likes our oak. She called me at work yesterday to tell me how beautiful it was, framed against the blue sky.

We spent all of Friday afternoon outside, working in the yard. With a lawn this large, it is of utmost importance that I snag any available mowing days in the fall. At the Canby house, I could do a rush job on moderately wet grass. That’s not an option here.

As we worked, we chatted with the neighbors. Curt and I held a conference over the fence, discussing yard work, remodeling, and dogs. While I was cleaning out my car, Tom wandered over from next door to talk about grapes, rototillers, and old photography magazines. (Tom has some 1940s photography magazines that he’s going to give me. Also, we recently purchased Mike and Rhonda’s 8-hp rototiller; I can’t wait to put its counterrotating tines to work!)

I spent this morning and afternoon with my friend Mitch, and his children, Brandon and Zoe (aged 13 and 10, respectively). It was interesting to see a pair of kids who are about five years older than any of the children with whom I have regular contact. “When do kids get self-sufficient?” I often ask my friends. “When do they demand less of your time, become able to do things on their own without your constant attention?” The answer seems to be: someplace between ten and thirteen (though I’m sure it depends on the kid).

In the morning, I took Mitch and his kids to the annual Multnomah County Library book sale. They seemed genuinely shocked at the sheer number of books. I’ve had three years to grow accustomed to the shock, and, in fact, have developed something of a routine.

I rifled through the “pamphlets” first (only twenty-five cents each!). There were some real gems to be had here:

  • Amish Portrait and Pictorial Oaxaca, both of which are photo-essays on their topics
  • Strawberries: King of the Fruits, a detailed guide to raising strawberries (best advice: to control weeds, keep a flock of geese)
  • The Cub Scout Songbook
  • Tales of French Love and Passion
  • The Step-By-Step Guide Book to Home Wiring, which may be out of date but how can you refuse at twenty-five cents?
  • The Lesbian Relationship Handbook
  • Livin’ in Doom Town: A History of Albina Gentrification, a bitter polemic regarding recent Portland history
  • The Copyright Primer for Librarians and Educators
  • Cliff’s Notes for Paradise Lost, Beowulf, and The Odyssey, all of which are works that could use a little explanation…
  • The real find were a collection of a couple dozen opera-related items, most of which were the large booklets from old vinyl record sets.

The pamphlet section is always crowded, and people jostle for position without regard to traditional etiquette. Last year and this, I’ve had the misfortune to stand next to pungent men while sorting through the pamphlets. I probably missed some good ones in my hurry to get to fresh air.

This year, I didn’t buy as many books as in the past. I’m trying to exercise fiscal responsibility. I did come home with four lovely large hard-bound volumes on various topics: Stephen Foster (who wrote “O Susanna!” and “Camptown Races”, among other songs), the American Revolution, and the great operas.

After the book sale, we returned to Mitch’s apartment, where I played Magic: The Gathering with Brandon. All four of us then played The Game of Life, which Zoe gleefully won by a large margin.

In the evening, we drove to McMinnville for a nice dinner with the Hamptons and the Bacon-Flicks. We get together with these old college friends about twice a year now. (At one time, Chris and Cari were our best couple friend: we did a lot with them in the years after we graduated from Willamette.) Michael and Laura live in a beautiful old house. They talked about how much they love McMinnville, how much it feels like prototypical small-town America. Cari and Chris talked about how much they love their jobs. Again, it was fun to see children beyond those we normally encounter. Kaden and Ethan are polite, intelligent little boys. Their earnest natures amused me.

Tomorrow we’ll drive down to see Jeremy and Jennifer. Rumor has it we’re heading to a pumpkin patch. I’ll be sure to take my camera.

Memories Are Like This

Sometimes my childhood memories aren’t really memories at all — they’re moods, or impressions. I don’t remember a specific time or place or event, but remember a feeling. I remember how it felt to go to Grandma’s house. I remember how it felt to visit the train station. I remember the glow from endless days of summer.

Mostly I do remember details, though these often form a confusing jumble of time, place, event, and emotion. I can’t be sure that the individual memories I have are correct: maybe I’ve recombined several memories, drawing on the location of one memory, combining it with the events of a second, adding the emotions of a third.

Memories are like this.

For example, when I was a boy, my family lived in a trailer house in the Oregon coutnryside. We were poor. We did not have a television (though I believe this was more of a philosophical choice than a financial one on the part of my parents). In the evening, my family read and listened to music.

My father was a big Neil Diamond fan. He loved ABBA. He often listened to Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits. (Thus it is no surprise that these are all favorites of mine now.) Mostly, he listened to classical music.

Though we didn’t have much, we did have a nice component stereo, including a silver receiver with big knobs, and a top-of-the-line turntable. I can remember the night Dad bought the stereo equipment from a small store in Beaverton. I can remember the record shop’s dimly lit rooms were filled with record bins. I can remember the Bee Gees strutting over the store’s speakers. I can remember heading home with the Star Wars soundtrack, a couple of Mannheim Steamroller albums, and a small collection of classical music.

I had no formal musical education (aside from two years of violin in fifth and sixth grade), but I learned a lot from listening to Dad’s classical records. He was passionate about them. I learned to love Beethoven’s sixth symphony (the Pastorale). I learned to love Bizet’s Carmen Suite and Grieg’s Peer Gynt. I learned to love Also Sprach Zarathustra. I learned to love Mozart and Liszt and Rimsky-Korsakov.

When I think of my childhood, my first thought is not of a particular time or place or event; it is a feeling, an emotion, a sense of peace. A vague, non-specific scene. I remember a cool autumn night — the early darkness — sitting in the trailer’s living room on a baroque floral couch (a couch that went with me to college). The wall-mounted kerosene sconces are lit. The dishwasher is humming. There is a fire in the wood stove. The birds are squawking in their cages, or perhaps sitting on the curtain rods. A small and stinky dog is curled next to Jeff on one end of the couch. I am on the other end, reading a book. We are listening to the Cosmos soundtrack: soaring strings, pulsing electronic beats, the haunting Bulgarian Shepherdess Song.

A vasty darkness surrounds the trailer, yet inside is a womb of warmth and light and music.

This is what I remember.

A previous entry, Twenty-Two Year Reflection, is related to this entry.

Rosemary Verde

The gin fizz may have been my drink for the summer, but my drink for the autumn is rosemary verde, a delicious martini-like cocktail. Kris ordered this drink on our last trip to Ciao Vito. It is unusual in that it’s savory rather than sweet. We both thought the drink was a wonderful change of pace; we’d love to be able to serve it to guests at dinner parties.

Using some of my newfound confidence, I just phoned Ciao Vito and spoke with the bartender, who gave me the recipe.

Rosemary Verde (from Ciao Vito)

Combine one shot (1-1/2 to 2 ounces) rosemary-infused vodka, one-half ounce triple sec (or other orange liqueur), a splash of fresh-squeezed lime juice, and a dash of simple syrup (aka sugar water) in a cocktail shaker with two cubes of ice. Shake and strain. Pour into a martini glass, then finish with a splash of soda water.

To make the rosemary-infused vodka: place two sprigs of fresh rosemary into a bottle of vodka. Allow the vodka to sit for two or three days. Strain the vodka through a cheesecloth.

Simple, yet delicious. Give it a shot. Or, the next time you’re at Rosings Park, ask me to make one for you.

My path to overcoming depression is giving me all sorts of heretofore untapped confidence. My innate curiosity is boiling at record levels. I’m happy. I find it easier to deal with people than it has been in years. I’m not afraid to assert my need for personal space.

Two small but significant examples of the change in me:

  1. Remember my new old office? Remember it was a hellhole, a pit? A couple weeks ago, I spruced up the place a bit by cleaning it and by rearranging the furniture. This week, I spent $250 to add some finishing touches: four potted plants, a bunch of candles, a floor rug, and a new portable stereo. Now I don’t resent having to work in an oppressive environment; it’s no longer oppressive. Now I don’t mind sitting in my office for eight hours a day.
  2. At one of our larger customers, I deal with many different reps. One of these reps is a brusque man who never knows what he wants and always makes me wait. A few weeks ago, he made me wait in the lobby for half an hour. This man is a little like Jeremy but without Jeremy’s vast charisma. Even his co-workers don’t like him. Recently, it dawned on me that perhaps I resented this guy simply because I let him walk all over me. In fact, he had told me many times, “Don’t let me do this to you. Call me on it.” You know what? I’ve started to call him on it, and suddenly our relationship isn’t adversarial, it’s kind of fun. While his co-workers are rolling their eyes, I joke around him. When he pushes, I push back. Suddenly it’s a relationship of equals, and it makes all the difference.

There are still aspects of my life that are not in control (my weight, my cleanliness), but for once I’m happy with who I am. I refuse to think bad thoughts about myself. So what if I’m fat? So what if I have a score of e-mails to answer? So what if my desk is a mess? I’ll fix these things soon, and I’ll do so by approaching these issues in a positive way rather than a negative one.